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Hot tea increases risk of esophageal cancer in smokers, drinkers

| Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, 4:06 p.m.
Hot tea
Hot tea

Drinking tea at hot temperatures is associated with a higher risk for esophageal cancer for people who also drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study, done in China, found drinking scalding hot tea made the risk of esphogeal cancer up to five times greater, but only in people who also smoked or drank alcohol.

For a person who did not smoke or drink alcohol, daily tea drinking was not associated with the risk of esophageal cancer.

People who smoked and drank alcohol are at an elevated risk regardless of whether they drink tea, but scalding hot tea makes it worse because the heat irritates the lining of the esophagus which is already irritated from the drinking and smoking

Blair Jobe, director of the Allegheny Health Network's Esophageal & Lung Institute, said there is a correlation between cancers of the esophagus and someone who drinks alcohol and smokes.

“It's reflux disease,” Jobe said. “Around 20 percent of America has reflux disease.”

Esophageal cancer is cancer of the food tube that runs between the throat and the stomach. Symptoms include weight loss, difficulty in swallowing and enlarged lymph nodes, and chest pain, according to the American Cancer Society. People with reflux are also at a slightly higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, it said.

The Chinese study followed 456,155 men and women between the ages of 30 to 79, who were not known to have cancer. Researchers collected information for nine years on their tea-drinking habits, as well as their smoking and alcohol consumption.

Researchers found people who drank hot, or boiling tea daily at the beginning of the study had an increased risk of esophagus cancer if they also drank 15 grams of alcohol or more daily and smoked. A 12-ounce beer, or a 5-ounce glass of wine contain 14 grams of alcohol, the study said.

Jobe said cancer of the esophagus is rare, but it has increased 500 percent since 1970. He attributed some of the increase to the obesity epidemic.

“But no one really knows,” he said.

According to the study, China is one of the countries with a high incidence of esophageal cancer. Iran is another country, Jobe said.

The American Cancer Society said esophageal cancer is more common among men than among women. The lifetime risk of esophageal cancer in the United States is about 1 in 132 in men and about 1 in 455 in women. Around 17,290 new esophageal cancer cases diagnosed each year, it said.

To avoid esophagus cancer, eat smaller meals with leafy and raw vegetables, Jobe said. Also, heartburn medications may relieve the symptoms, but they don't fix the problem.

Jobe said 40 percent of his patients don't have heartburn. Instead, they have trouble sleeping or have a chronic cough.

“It's a $7 billion industry,” said Jobe, when asked about heartburn medication. “The medication masks the symptoms of reflux because it changes the chemistry (in the stomach acid.)

If a person has been on heartburn medication for four or five years, then it's important to get an endoscopy.

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff wroter. She can be reached at 412-8712346,, or via Twitter @41Suzanne.

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